Written by Dylan Brandsema
I was growing rather annoyed at the fact that it was almost the end of 2014 and I still hadn’t seen Snowpiercer, one of my most want-to-see movies of the year. So, I was excited when I discovered it was added to Netflix, having missed it in the midst of moving across the country during its limited theatrical run a few months back. Was it worth the wait? I’m still not sure, but what I do know is that Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer is one of the most unique films I’ve seen a long time.
Snowpiercer wastes no time getting started, creating a brewing sense of impending doom right from the beginning frames of its eerie, unsettling opening credits. As the film goes through its first act, the audience is directly, and almost involuntarily, introduced to each main character in a way that seems forced, but not in a way that’s too overbearing, which makes it easy to overlook in the scope of it all. I often found myself confused during the first act (as with the rest of the film) about what the characters on screen were referring to, or talking about in their conversations. Despite its forceful and rushed introduction/development of the characters, this is not a film that spoon-feeds its audience the information that they need. Snowpiercer assumes that the viewer piece together the puzzle on their own. While this lack of exposition is refreshing,it’s delivered in a way that comes off as uneven and because of this, a large portion of the film feels like it’s still just getting started. (At one point I checked the clock, and was surprised I was already 40 minutes in).
Although the first act of the film is rocky, it’s not insufferable. Where Snowpiercer begins to lose momentum is the middle. As the characters move along their journey to the front of the train, sudden changes of setting, and abrupt additions of secondary characters (including one school teacher played by a very distracting, unfitting Alison Pill) completely break the flow of the story. While some scenes during this section of the film may be important, a lot of them drag in the worst way, and at times, even feel like they were just added for time.
Gladly, the third act of the film is where it picks itself back up, as it descends into what is likely among the most intense and powerful climaxes I’ve seen in a film all year. (Keep in mind I say among, not the most intense. Here’s to looking at you, Gone Girl). I’m not going to spoil the details, but When Curtis, played by Chris Evans, finally arrives at the front of the train and is approached by the man he alleges his enemy, my eyes were glued to the screen, and my stomach dropped a few inches into itself. This is largely due to ghoulish, spine-tingling, and frankly quite surprising performance from actor Ed Harris. This brings us to the highlight of the film…
The strongest aspect of Snowpiercer are the performances. While Chris Evans’ work as the lead is frankly rather standard, and Tilda Swinton is simply bizarre, the supporting cast, including the likes of Jamie Bell, John Hurt, and Octavia Spencer, are all collectively superb. If it weren’t for the perfect casting Snowpiercer would not be at all worthwhile, and had they not been there, I probably would’ve given up during the jagged second act.
One aspect of the film I can’t help but bring up is the action scenes. Over the past decade or so, a technique many directors have used to construct action sequences is quick-cut editing, paired with shaky-cam cinematography. I’ve been saying for longer than I care to remember this is not an effective way to shoot action. It didn’t work out in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, it didn’t work in last year’s Paranoia, it didn’t work in The Hunger Games, and it most definitely doesn’t work here. In fact, it’s executed so terribly in this movie (and unfortunately, more than a few times), I was actually squeezing my temples in frustration at the sight of it.
Despite everything, where Snowpiercer really falls flat is a combination of both uneven, sloppy pacing and narrative-breaking tonal inconsistencies. The roughness of the first and second act joined with considerably questionable delivery of the story create an overall messiness that I can’t seem to forgive, despite my being impressed with the ending and the performances given. When I recall the big picture in my mind, the first thing that comes to me is the constant fretting of my eyebrows I was doing due to being confused and feeling like I missed something, even though I didn’t.
Overall, Snowpiercer is…good. It’s messy in areas, and even at times, befuddling, but when I look at it as a whole, I did like it. On the scale of the best and worst of the year, this is one of the few that wind up right in the middle. It’s not awful, but it’s not great either. I would definitely recommend checking it out at least once solely for how different it is, and it’s also refreshing to see Chris Evans, for once, playing a character that’s not a comic book superhero.
Overall rating: 6/10